CCE “Divided we Stand” 2021 Review
TL;DR – 6.9/10 This year was a whirlwind of disorganization and confusion at an event that is still affected in a significant way by the pandemic. Even so, the convention center side of the Kalahari opened up to a great reception of cosplayers, and this con continues to be an excellent place to enjoy the company of friends, a large waterpark, and a nightlife culture that makes a strong stand among the top contenders for the best convention experience across the east coast
This review is the first where I have some polarized mixed thoughts to present before moving into the pros and cons of the event. I will start with those:
Increased security personnel: Lots of uniformed security was visible through the weekend running patrols to keep people safe. The only reason this is in the mixed thoughts section is that too many open uniform security enforcers can be seen as intimidating and can leave guests concerned about event safety. I do not know how many plain clothes officers were present or available, but I know that there were a significantly higher number of them this year
Less people concentrated in the waterpark: This is a mixed bag because compared to the pandemonium and chaos of previous years with photographers swarming the available indoor locations, this year even at peak Saturday hours, there was space near the wave pool to shoot. This will tie into a few points later in the review, but despite having that extra space, there was a general lack of convention goers and cosplayers at the wave pool and other waterpark areas throughout the entire weekend, which made it appear that there was no event happening whatsoever
Now I’ll get into the cons of the event, starting with those most affected by COVID changes in procedure:
No lobby gatherings: This year they eliminated the lobby gatherings as best as they could, so that unless you were at a restaurant, meetings were discouraged. This led to some strange last minute moving of group photo shoots, and the removal of the iconic 2019 lobby party
No mask enforcement: Despite the previous point, there was no location anywhere at the Kalahari that seemed to strictly enforce wearing masks. I understand that state laws for businesses do come into effect here, but it seemed particularly odd to have certain COVID based restrictions at play, while completely disregarding one of the most important elements of those restrictions
Low energy: To continue with the less people point above, the con as a whole seemed to suffer from a dramatic dip in energy levels, especially during all daylight hours, even on Saturday. I spent most of my time outside and around the convention center and in the waterpark, but compared to previous years, it just wasn’t as lively, as hype, or as energetic as it has been in the past. This contributed even more to a strange sense of feeling like a minority even at a convention known for essentially taking over a full weekend at the Kalahari. On Sunday, it seemed that almost everyone cleared out a checkout, and there was little reason to stay beyond 1pm. This convention truly runs from Thursday to Saturday Night, rather than Friday to Sunday afternoon
Confusing convention elements: Whether it was your photoshoot being moved last minute, figuring out where to register, knowing whether a pass was needed for night swim, understanding the autograph signup process, or plenty of other aspects, this year seemed massively disorganized when it came to the actual convention elements and how they blended with the resort and could be improved greatly
Increased prices: It’s a resort, so you can already expect to spend more than average for a meal, but just about every element of staying at the Kalahari came with an increased premium in 2021, without a matching quality paired with it. Monster drinks, restaurant options, and buffet food are the noticeable offenders here from the resort’s side. On the convention side, the price went up for night swim, which leads to my next point
Hot tub rotation: Some were able to mitigate a terrible experience at night swim, but with the hot tub rotations in effect, along with spending paid time for the waterpark waiting in line just to get to a hot tub, I can’t imagine that even with the addition of a DJ and a ‘rave on the waves’ that this year’s implementation of night swim was worth the increased premium for either night
Food options / Quality: Despite the price increases this year, I can’t personally say that there was any increase in the quality of the available food items at the Kalahari this year. It still remains true that despite eating at the larger restaurants, the buffet, and the downstairs cafeteria, that I would still only recommend Java Manjaro for eating all weekend long with prices that very much exceeded expectations in regards to cost. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more places like it at the resort itself
Game room / Artist’s alley: Both of these were smaller and more lacking in variety than you’ll find at other conventions with similar cost. I’m not sure if cabinet presence or vendor availability was specifically affected by the pandemic or not, but options seemed limited in both areas
Check in efficiency: While I didn’t encounter rude resort staff when proceeding to check in, I did run into strange complications involving not being on my room reservation. Even when I directly showed the check in staff my email and the Kalahari website area that specifically listed me on the reservation, they would not allow me to check in immediately, which was annoying. Even when some of my roommates arrived, what should have been a simple process ended up dragging out longer than 15 minutes just to finally get proper wristbands and names on the reservation – even though the latter portion had been done before ever arriving at the Kalahari
Photo locations / Cancellations: Lastly, the Kalahari isn’t the most diverse location to have photos done, and most of what you’ll see with good lighting is the wave pool or the forest. This works great for certain cosplays, but I can’t say that I was struck by any new inspiration when shooting this year. I also had a few major shoot cancellations that I was particularly excited for, though that was no fault of the convention itself.
Now that those are out of the way, let’s get into the pros of this event!
The weather: The dreaded CCE curse was broken this year, with outdoor temperatures remaining in the excellent range throughout the weekend! It was nice enough to not only enable safe outdoor shooting for the weekend, but also to enjoy the outdoor hot tubs and other amenities of the waterpark
Outdoor access: A cool bonus during shooting Friday, I was able to talk and coordinate with some of the Kalahari staff to shoot in the outdoor pool and waterpark area for a limited time (though no swimming was allowed). This was amazing, and for those that were with me, a nice bonus for photos. In addition to this however, Saturday’s weather prompted the outside portion to remain open, which helped to spread out some of the general chaos involved in solely using the wave pool for photography
Increased Space: One of the biggest improvements to the Colossalcon East experience this year was having access to an improved and expanded convention center, which gave some much needed space for the convention activities to take place. With more rooms, and more spacing, cosplayers really got an opportunity to spread out and enjoy the convention in a safe way
Housekeeping Staff: God-tier pleasant. Every time I walked past housekeeping staff, I was greeted with a smile, morning, afternoon or night. They were also really friendly when checking out, and allowed me to get much needed room supplies even when cleaning and working on other rooms. Even though my friends and I opted for a do not disturb weekend, it doesn’t diminish the fact that housekeeping was really on the ball here
Roommates and Down Time: There are so many opportunities during the con to meet new friends, or to catch up with groups you might not see as often, and this year we had a new roommate and were able to just chill. Along with down time comes real bonding time, friendship destroying party games, and trusting in the heart of the cards with some dueling. Total relaxation in the hot tubs one of the perfect avenues here to facilitate that kind of bonding as well
Alcohol / Party Availability: 5 stars. If you know 4 digits and you’re on the right side of the Kalahari, then you’re pretty much set for good times during the convention nightlife scene. If you’re more of the solo type, then from the lobby to the waterpark, there are plenty of places to stock up on a good old Kalahari specialty drink, which would last you a decent amount of time (Poison Ivy and Bomb Pop recommended from this year!).
To close, this year’s CCE was a bit different in comparison to 2019 and before. Not only were there some difficult, but necessary changes allotted due to the pandemic, there were also enhancements to what may have been described as a limited convention experience in the past. For me, it puts me in a tough position, where enjoying the waterpark aspect of the convention is starting to feel largely removed from attending the con. There were many times during the weekend where it was actually difficult to know that a convention was even happening, and the overall energy of the space suffered for it. I was able to have a good time this year, but it leans more heavily now on the people that you know, and the group that you go with, rather than photoshoot opportunities or the actual convention offerings. So if you choose, you can always spend a little more to participate in a plethora of activities, but if you don’t, make sure you’re with a solid group, because there is still plenty of fun to be had. Grab your friends, get a room at the Kalahari, and enjoy this solid September vacation. 6.9/10
Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think!!